The Newsroom Episode 9 – The Blackout Part II Mock Debate
If you’ve forgotten what went on before, here’s my The Blackout Part I: Tragedy Porn review. Otherwise, just remember Mackenzie is having to run stories on Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner, and then the power goes out. Mackenzie starts to fantasize about coming together and doing the broadcast in the park.
Mackenzie: “The grips take apart the anchor desk . . .”
Will: “And carry it down 25 flights?”
[Assumed key grip]: “You bet your ass they do!”
Have you hugged a grip today?
Grips have a pretty specific job, but are generally used for ‘anything too heavy or delicate for a PA.’ That’s standard indie film procedure, though I’m sure it wouldn’t fly in a major newsroom office. Relatedly, Mackenzie’s ‘we are a team, we need to trust each other’ speech was over-the-top and a tad crazy, but it shows how Sorkin is bringing his idea of running a standard TV/movie into the running of a newsroom, because that’s the Rally Cry a good AD would give. Also standard TV/movie procedure: scrambling to make plans on the fly, only to scrap them as you’ve sorted it all out. But, raise your hand if you actually thought there was going to be a News on the Square moment, or the lights weren’t going to come on at the crucial point in Mac’s speech?
The only problem (well, almost only; they could have dialed it back from 11 to 10) I have with this storyline and the Neil Incites the Trolls storyline is: they are couched in reality. I’d have an easier time if the background was a story was fictionalized, even if about a badly moniker’d Chelsea Antoinette and Tony Frankfurter. The suspension of disbelief required for these plots is broken with constant references to real political players.
Of course, changing the storylines to fictional ones wouldn’t allow the show to do what it has been surprisingly adept at the past couple weeks: studying the psychology of not just the newsmakers, but the news watchers, including the The Newsroom viewers. We the viewers are sensationalists. We’re voyeurs. When ratings are driving the coverage, we’re complicit because we drive the ratings.
Thus I’m stuck, as the show is, between wanting/doing a really good show about reality that includes all the points, or a really overblown drama that people will watch and that includes a few of the points. The Newsroom fluctuates wildly between the two, often sacrificing one for the other two or three times per episode, and it brings some of its strongest moments as well as the moments that make the viewers want to find a brick wall to beat their heads against.
A good example of the mix of hyperfiction and reality, the mock debate storyline was a stretch, and an over-harped stretch at that, but the payoff came not just in the debate but the practice sessions leading up to it. Though the payoff makes the narrative stretches excusable, said narrative stretches become tedious. Tedious stretches don’t lend themselves to repeat viewing. It’s a give and take most shows do it to some extent; I’m just not exactly sure how self-aware of this problem the show is. I’m still watching The Newsroom, as is a great percentage of the population, but what is its shelf life? In the end, this sort of show may work best as a quasi-news; a one-and-done that informs us but then sits in the archives.
The storyline I really bit on also required a stretch in an already-established character having a tie to Casey Anthony. It didn’t pay off well – there’s a place to discuss how pro-life advocates often drop the baby once its born, and in the middle of a news segment with promise of better, not to mention a gaping logical hole that pro-life Will doesn’t walk through, is not that place – but the rest hit close to home, and there’s still room for future payoff.
I’ve discussed how my background in narrative filmmaking informs how I watch the show, but putting Maggie in a position to convince her roommate Lisa to go on News Night when neither Lisa nor Maggie is comfortable with it is eerily reminiscent of aspects of documentary filmmaking I’ve been struggling with the past few months. I’ll turn those into a post in and of themselves, but I appreciate the nod, even if there’s not a whole lot of existential crisis exposition.
With one episode left to go in the season, The Newsroom has almost found its rhythm, and the most difficult part is striking a balance between exposing sensationalism and becoming sensationalistic. Other Things It Finds Difficult: editing the story coherently, writing credible characters, not mocking the entire female population, handling romantic adult relationships, handling platonic adult relationships, reminding us how much times has passed during the series without shoehorning references into the dialogue flow.
I noted this may work better as something to be reminisced about and not re-watched. What do you think?
For the Record
- Sloane’s lines and attitude don’t always land, but when they do, they land hard. More, please.
- The decor in the makeup room was fantastic.
- Either/Or fallacies abound.
- Don’s “eat me” = perfect, as was Charlie’s backing him up. ‘When Don says ‘eat me,’ that’s usually the end of the conversation.”
- Economy of character and dialogue meant that bit with the pants and the tailor was going to have to pay off soon, but dear heavens speaking of stretches. Daniels sold it, but the shot of him lying on the floor un-sold it.